The Wild Side for Sunday, July 15, 2012

Michael Iaconelli was in Orlando last week, and the accomplished New Jersey bass pro was smiling.

Mention Louisiana and the recently signed RESTORE Act and the grin went from ear to ear.

“Isn’t it great,” Iaconelli blurted. “I love Louisiana ... won the (Bassmaster) Classic there. The state means a lot to me and lot of other fishermen, too. They’re going to get money to help restore their coast and that will help keep fishing there be the best in the country.”

Iaconelli first came to our state in 1999 for the first Bassmaster Classic held in what the B.A.S.S. folks called the Louisiana Delta. He qualified for the field from the organization’s Federation Nation. It’s the amateur side of B.A.S.S. and annually has six among its tens of thousands of members, mostly weekend anglers, competing against the top bass fishermen in the world.

Iaconelli finished a creditable fifth, and I had the pleasure of riding with him on the final day in 1999 when he caught enough bass in the Orange Grove canals (south of Bayou Black Marina) to jump from 10th place to the fifth spot, a finish that launched his career and carried him to the 2003 Classic title in New Orleans.

“The place I learned how to fish (Chesapeake Bay) is similar to Louisiana’s delta,” Iaconelli said. “But there are a whole lot more fish there ... a place that’s truly a treasure for our country.

“It’s a place we can’t afford to lose, and now that the (RESTORE Act) money is coming it’s going to help preserve Louisiana for years to come.”

Iaconelli was among the first pro fishermen to sign a pledge supporting the National Wildlife Federation’s Vanishing Paradise initiative. Other big names, folks like Kevin VanDam, Greg Hackney, Cliff Crochet, Shaw Grigsby and Aaron Martens signed, too, and B.A.S.S. was among VP’s most ardent supporters.

Before Iaconelli tackled more interviews during last week’s ICAST, the country’s largest fishing trade show, his smile turned to a scowl.

“We have another problem now,” the angler-in-black said. “We need fishermen to check out Keep America Fishing. There are people in our country who want to keep us from fishing. They want to stop you and me, the recreational angler. It’s something most of us thought we’d never see, but that’s what’s happened, and somebody needed to stand up and tell the millions of (recreational) anglers that we need to fight. It’s in front of us right now.”

Need a website? Try http://www.keepamericafishing.org.

Oops!

In last week’s Golden Meadow-Fourchon Tarpon Rodeo story, Tag-and-Release and Red Snapper categories champ Jan Constantino’s husband was identified as Steve Constantino. His name is Keith Constantino.

“That was a bigger hit than the marlin and snapper she caught,” Keith Constantino said, intimating that family and friends have been picking on him for several days about Jan’s “new” husband.

My apologies Keith.